ISRAEL


By Zoe Karelli (1955)



the poem in Greek


and become the man I would want to remain forever:

son of the Jews, the holy Jews.

Cavafy



From the desert of Egypt the line departs,

and through the great Babylon it passes.


Perennial, replenished, always full,

squirming, continuously fed

with new sorrows;

what a mystifying offer,

such inexplicable punishment and disaster.


The tribe of Jews passes, white tribe set apart,

with its own special pride,

with its own painful contrition,

a fate persistent, a Fate of persistence

in the tribe that refuses the alien participation.


In martyrdom the human line passes,

tight through the succession of times,

a sign of perseverance through the ages,

of a distinct submission and focus

into the tribe's horrors and destinies,

the signs, the distinct features,

gifts or defects set apart.


they are gone without strength

before the pursuer


The line passes through the streets

of the city of Thessalonica now,

and inside it more and more faces,


her children are gone into captivity

before the enemy


small children holding small bags

in their hands, wearing small, tall shoes

for the unknown distant roads

of the terrible unknown adversity.


the young children ask bread,

and no man breaketh it unto them


the tongue of the sucking child

cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst


The children and the sucklings

swoon in the streets of the city


The young and the old

lie on the ground in the streets.


The line has old men with glances

remote, turned toward the start

of the perennial exile, it has young,

beautiful women with glances darkened

by the hideous fright,


they ravished the women in Zion,

and the maids in the cities of Judah.


My virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.


young men with crushed necks

and heads low as if harvested,

struck and bloodied faces,

unrecognizable from the curses and insults,

torn by shame, degraded

by wrongs unheard of and malicious.


She weepeth sore in the night,

and her tears are on her cheeks


The line of terrible martyrdom passes,

the line of the martyred tribe -- you think

you are seeing the persecution from its very start,

you are hearing the mandate of the voice

heard all over the earth,

and the stern, straining voice that moaned

in the Jews' undrying lungs.

Of the voice that was heard in Ramah

rueing, pleading

and counseling with the mother of the Maccabees,

the voice that clamors and echoes, even in silence,

the invariant strength of the holy Jews.


Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water

for the destruction of my people.


The odor of burning bodies...

They sense it everywhere

those who were left,

those who returned,

those who do not forget,

they cannot forget

the hunger


they have given their pleasant things for food...


their skin cleaveth to their bones;

it is withered, it is become like a stick


our skin was black like an oven

because of the fiery famine


the exhaustion of the bodies,

the degradation of souls,

by the horrible need,


He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him:

he is filled full with reproach


the debasement,

the annihilation,

the brutalization,

the horrible destruction

of the handsome human body

that was not allowed to die alone

and replenish the earth.

Whose soul was raped

and no one respected its death.

Israel's tribe of silent endurance,

unbending secret strength, anticipation,

there it stands stoic and unyielding.




[Excerpts from Jeremiah's Lamentations inserted by the poet and included here in translation (King James Bible, with a couple of alterations);

my sincere thanks to Patrick Murphy and Nick Nicholas for their assistance with this translation. -- GB]